Tag Archives: Japanese folklore

Did you know that catfish cause earthquakes?

20 Mar

About nine months ago I wrote a post about a Japanese folklore character called a “Kappa” which is meant to scare children from playing to close to bodies of water where they may drown.

Signs in Japan warning children to stay away from a river or lake almost always have a picture of a Kappa.

But there is another folklore character that is found in warning signs in Japan today. The 鯰 (catfish).

Long ago in Japan it was said that earthquakes were caused by a giant sleeping catfish who lived under the ground when it woke up and began it thrash around.


A 浮世絵 (woodblock print) of a god stopping the catfish from causing an earthquake.

So, in Japan today, even though no one actually believes that earthquakes are caused by catfish, signs for earthquake evacuation shelters, earthquake evacuation routes and earthquake safety usually have a picture of a catfish.


A roadsign in Japan for an earthquake emergency road.


It says: "It's an earthquake! We support you and your families safety with earthquake evacuation"

Even though no one believes the folklore legend about the giant catfish underground causing earthquakes, many people do believe that catfish act peculiar just before an earthquake strikes…and this is where the folklore story may have originated from.


22 Jun

Let me introduce you to a Japanese folklore character.

Do you know what a 「カッパ」 (“Kappa“) is?

It’s a fictional character that has been a famous folklore legend in Japan for centuries.
It looks like a creepy turtle-like creature with a “dish” on it’s head surrounded by hair, a turtle-like shell on it’s back, a bird-like beak and webbed fingers and toes.

It lives in the rivers, streams and other bodies of water in Japan.

Kappa love to eat cucumbers. So there is a type of sushi made with cucumber that is called “Kappa-maki“.
But their favorite meal is children. They like to eat children who wander too close to rivers and streams.

As you may have guessed, the “Kappa” is a type of “boogey-man” in Japan that is meant to frighten children from playing too close to water were they might drown.

That’s the purpose of Kappa. To keep small children from playing near rivers and streams.

So, almost every sign near rivers, streams, ponds, etc that warn children from playing there have a picture of a Kappa.
The character is basically a “do not swim” mascot.


The sign says "Danger!! Don't play in the water" (The faded blue sign says about the same)

(Signs in Japan for earthquake shelters have a logo too. A catfish. (I wrote a post about that: here).

Kappa can be seen many places in Japan. There’s even a part of Tokyo called 合羽橋 (Kappabashi).

The Kappa has a weak point.
His incredible strength stems from the “dish” on top of his head that is full of water.
Kappa must be careful to never let the water spill out of the dish.
But the Kappa is famously polite…if a person is confronted by a Kappa that person should bow to the Kappa because the polite Kappa will surely return the bow—and then spill the water off his head which would render him helpless.

And there’s another weakness…if someone refills a Kappa’s empty “dish” and restores his strength, the Kappa will be indebted to that person for life.


A cuter Kappa-san

What types of folklore creatures are in your country’s culture? And they meant to ensure children’s safety, like the Kappa?